Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Show Must Go On (Korea 2007)

It ain't easy being a gangster, and The Show Must Go On (우아한 세계) is a prime example of this saying. It's even harder when you have a family to take care of. An often dark and serious drama in every sense of the words, great comedic moments still manage to weasel their way in from time to time, making for an excellent twist on the well-worn gangster tale.

Kang In-goo (Kang-ho Song) is just like any other family man, except for the fact that he's a well-respected, and high-ranking member of the Dog's gang. He manages to secure a major deal for his gang by landing the contract for an apartment building's construction. In-goo's boss, Chief Roh (Choi Il-Hwa), gives In-goo the responsibility of over-seeing the construction site. Chief Roh's younger brother Sang-jin (Yoon Je-moon) is naturally jealous about In-goo's promotion and tensions rise between the two of them over money and rank. Naturally, In-goo's family; his wife Mi-ryung (Ji-yeong Park) and daughter Hee-soon (Kim So-eun), aren't happy with his line of work and want him to get out of the gangster life as soon as possible. In-goo promises that after he's made his money through the construction deal, he'll tell his boss that he wants out. He even begins looking for a new home for his family so that they can all start a new life together. After an embarrassing incident with his daughters teacher, In-goo is having a hard time connecting with his daughter, and after an invading her privacy when she leaves the house, things go from bad to worse. Mi-ryung is incredibly disappointed in him, and Hee-soon would rather her dad just die. The very next day finds In-goo in a position where he's fending for his life against hired thugs. His closes friend and childhood buddy Hyun-su (Dal-su Oh), who also happens to be a high-ranking member of the opposing Jaguars gang, informs In-goo that everything isn't what it appears to be and that he should be careful who he trusts.

The family has had enough of In-goo's violent and unstable profession and decide to leave him. In-goo realizes now, more than ever, that he needs to get out of the gangster life while he still has a chance to save his family and his life. To make amends for earlier accusations, In-goo confronts Sang-jin and decides it's best to smooth things over before he talks to Chief Roh about getting out. As you can imagine, things don't go as planned, and what follows is a chain of events that will change In-goo's life forever.

An amazingly entertaining movie from start-to-finish, The Show Must Go On is a reminder of why I enjoy Korean cinema so much. It's a film that refuses to follow the Hollywood-formulaic rule book. It makes it's own rules, and that's what makes it so refreshing. Gangster stories are nothing new, especially in Asian cinema, so the real challenge is finding a way to infuse elements of originality to keep you interested. The Show Must Go On does that by showing us a man that is getting older, has a family that wants a new life, and ultimately is forced into deciding what he wants to do with his. The acting is all spot-on, with Kang-ho Song once again showing us why he is the reigning champ of Korean cinema. The ending alone will make you want to see everything this man's ever done. The elements of comedy are welcomed throughout, as the movie can be very dark and serious at time. I love the relationship between In-goo and his best friend Hyun-Su, and the scenes with both characters are a lot fun to watch. Like a lot of Korean movies that have a serious tone, you never really know what to expect and you're always kept anxiously waiting for the next thing to happen. As a whole, the film has an incredibly realistic feel, not in the sense that I know what gangster life is like and can attest to it all, but in the sense that you truly believe the things that are taking place on-screen.

Do yourself a favor and see The Show Must Go On. You'll be enthralled from beginning to end, and you'll find yourself hoping that more films of this caliber are made in the future. (Lee)

Grade: A

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